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NASCAR Cup: Aric Almirola talks about wreck, back injury

Aric Almirola celebrates winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on May 6, 2017 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).

Aric Almirola celebrates winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on May 6, 2017 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).

By AMANDA VINCENT

Aric Almirola, the regular driver of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, spoke to the attending media at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway on Friday to give an update on the back injury his sustained in a three-car crash (also involving Joey Logano and Danica Patrick) in the May 13 race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.

“First off, I want to thank the track safety and medical team, all of the doctors and nurses at The University of Kansas Hospital for taking good care of me,” Almirola said. “My family, friends and people in the NASCAR community who reached out to me, I truly appreciate your support, and to all the fans for their prayers and support. I want to thank my race team, everyone at RPM, and our great partners who have been supportive of me over the last five years and have continued to show support during this difficult time. I want to thank our doctors in Charlotte, Dr. Petty, Dr. Coric and Bill Heisel. They will be the team that leads my roadmap to my recovery. I will be meeting with them throughout the healing process, and it will be up to them to give me clearance to get back in the race car.

“From the time I was eight years old, all I ever wanted to do was race. Now that I’ve made it to the highest level, that’s all I ever do. It has become the norm to go on an airplane every Thursday, race and then do it all over again the next week. It’s going to be challenging these next several weeks knowing that my team is preparing to go to the track, the industry is preparing to go race, and I’m not. In the meantime, I’m going to focus on getting my body back to 100 percent. I’m going to take some time to relax and recover and do everything necessary to get back in the racecar as soon as possible.”

Almirola suffered an acute compression fracture to his T5 vertebra. The normal healing time for such and injury is eight to 12 weeks. Regan Smith will fill-in for Almirola in Saturday’s Monster Energy Open at Charlotte, with the hopes he’ll advance to the Monster Energy All-Star Race later in the evening. A substitute driver beyond the All-Star weekend has not been named.

“I hate the circumstances that created this opportunity, but I’m very excited and grateful to have a chance to drive the No. 43 this weekend,” Smith said. “Aric is a friend of mine and his health and a speedy recovery is the most important thing right now. I can’t thank everybody at RPM enough for thinking of me, and I’m excited to represent them and all of their partners.”

During his Friday press conference, Almirola provided the following detailed account of the wreck from his perspective:

“I watched the replay, and if you put it on full speed, I was just shy of two seconds behind the accident, so in race car driver terms that is a long way.  I should have missed the wreck, but I committed to turn one.  When I got there the cars that I was racing around went to the bottom, so I committed to the very outside lane, and simultaneously when I committed to the outside lane, I saw the accident up ahead and they came across the race track very abruptly and went into the outside catchfence.  I immediately knew that they were in my line of path, so my car was loose into the corner all night anyway, but I was entering the corner, I saw the wreck – was very aware the wreck was there – and I got on the brakes and turned the steering wheel to the left and my car got loose, and the next thing I knew I was on oil or water or something because my car wouldn’t slow down, it wouldn’t steer.  I felt like from that point my car was on railroad tracks and I was just headed straight for the wreck.  There was nothing I could do.  I’ve been doing this for a  long time and I feel like I’ve always been able to miss wrecks, especially from that far back.

“Yeah, I watched the replay and I feel like an idiot even being involved in the wreck, but there was honestly nothing I could do.  My car was on ice, and when you watch the replay, it looks like I’m going way too fast and I am because my car wouldn’t slow down.  I had no grip and I assumed that when Danica’s car blasted the outside wall that it must have knocked the radiator and oil and stuff got in the outside groove and it ran down the race track and I was in it, so that’s how I ended up in the wreck.  I knew it was coming.  I saw it.  I braced for the wreck and immediately when I hit Joey’s car I felt pain in my back.  It felt like somebody stuck a knife in my back and then I realized that my car was airborne because I could see the asphalt and when it came back down it felt like somebody took that knife and just twisted it up in my back.  I don’t know.  I’ve met with NASCAR and obviously I’ve met with a lot of doctors and I don’t know what exactly caused the fracture in my back.  I don’t know if it was the frontal impact or the vertical.  Both were big impacts, but nonetheless, I was in the wreck and I broke my back.  I am really thankful looking back on it and watching the replay, I’m very, very thankful that A, that’s the only thing that happened in that wreck is that I got a broken back.  I think if Joey’s car would have been three feet more down the race track and I would have hit him in the door number, that would have been very violent and I think Joey would have been seriously injured.  And, obviously, seeing Danica’s car on fire.  If I would have got into the back of her and run into her fuel cell or something like that, it could have been a lot worse than it was.  For all relative circumstances, I guess things worked out the best they could.”

According to Almirola, the springs in his car didn’t lessen the blow when his car landed after getting airborne.

“The springs didn’t actually fall out of the car, like disappear, but I think they came out of the spring buckets,” he said.  “The springs are actually tethered in, but when the car came back to the garage area the springs were not upright in the spring buckets, so I’m not 100 percent sure.  NASCAR has reviewed the video – the R&D Center has – and there’s nothing showing the springs are physically out of the car upon impact with Joey’s car, but when the car came back down it violently hit on the left side frame rail and the left side jack post and the R&D Center shows that as well, so I think that violent drop from six, seven feet in the air, coming down and hitting the left side jack post and the left side frame rail put all of that energy right up to my back.  I can tell you that at Martinsville when we run really low frame heights and really low air-pressure, when they drop the jack on the left side it’s violent on a pit stop, so I’m fairly confident that dropping a car from six feet into the air down onto the left side jack post is a very big hit.”

Follow Auto Racing Daily on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook (Facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook (Facebook.com/nascarexaminer)

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Posted by on May 19, 2017. Filed under Breaking News,Featured,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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